Lincoln Riley: ‘It’s just meaningless stuff to kill time till we get to the end’

Jan 1, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; A general view of the Capitol One and College Football Playoff (CFP) logo on the field during the Rose Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; A general view of the Capitol One and College Football Playoff (CFP) logo on the field during the Rose Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

For eight weeks, fans have been ogling and googling over the national rankings. And if you’re a fan of Oklahoma football, the Sooners’ No, 4 ranking in the weekly polls means something.

That is, until it doesn’t.

We have now reached the time of the season when the AP and coaches polls are just window dressing to what really matters in college football: the College Football Playoff rankings. How teams sort out in the CFP rankings is what determines which four teams will vie for the national championship and, short of that, a New Year’s Six bowl assignment.

Most Oklahoma fans were hoping for a top-four placement, realizing that it could easily be a five or six spot when the initial 2021 CFP top-25 rankings were released Tuesday night. What they got  instead was the shell shock of seeing their frustrating but beloved Sooners slotted all the way down to No. 8.

And to add insult to injury, the 9-0 Sooners find themselves stuck behind four one-loss teams and just ahead of Wake Forest, which also happens to be undefeated but plays in a much inferior Power Five league than the Big 12 this season.

That four-letter blast coming out of the central plains of Oklahoma is how Sooner fans are reacting to the CFP selection committee’s view of Oklahoma football this season.

That’s probably a typical fan reaction if your heart and emotions this time of year are aligned with a school not named Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.

The CFP selection committee sent a message to Oklahoma that while it respects the Sooners undefeated record through the first nine weeks of the season, it has not been impressed with the team’s performance in earning those victories.

It’s hard to admit — after all, the truth can often be very hurtful — but the CFP committee is right. For most of the season, OU has not played like a 9-0 team. barely squeaking by in five of its wins and against teams that aren’t that good, certainly not the caliber of the teams that lie ahead on the Sooners’ schedule. And that latter thought is exactly how Oklahoma can go about turning all of this around.

As for Lincoln Riley, his coaching staff and the Oklahoma players, however, they don’t and can’t allow themselves to get too riled up one way or the other about where the first playoff rankings of the season come out.

"“To me, it’s just meaningless stuff to kill time until we get to the end,” said Riley during his regular weekly briefing with reporters on Tuesday, just hours before the initial CFP rankings came out.“The biggest games, the best games, the most important games all across the country are yet to be played,” he said."

And that right there is the silver lining, the glass-half-full perspective of what all of this means for Oklahoma going into the championship month of November and the final games of the regular season.

There really isn’t much debate over the fact that the Sooners have the best talent in the Big 12. That’s why they were a heavy favorite all offseason and in the preseason to win a seventh straight Big 12 title. Except for a couple of games this season, however, and in brief spurts in others, Oklahoma hasn’t played anywhere near what they’re capable of.

The decision by Riley to change starting quarterbacks has made a marked difference in Oklahoma’s offensive production — and drew positive discussion from the CFP selection committee — and getting several starters on defense back from injury made a noticeable difference in the Sooners’ defensive effort against Texas Tech. How much of an impact these adjustments will have on the OU performance in the final three games remains to be see.

Right now, all Riley is concerned with is continuing to win. “If we win,” he said, its not going to matter what they put out in the initial CFP rankings.

Proof in point: Oklahoma has finished in the top four four times in the seven year history of the College Football Playoff format, but they have never started out there when the initial rankings were released.

Riley also knows that the Sooners have historically played their best football during the month of November.

In 2015, for example, Oklahoma was ranked 15th in the initial rankings; the Sooners defeated No. 4 Baylor, No. 11 TCU and No. 9 Oklahoma State in November that season and had moved to No. 4 when the final rankings came out.

In 2019, the Sooners started out No. 9 in the initial playoff rankings. During November they beat No. 12 Baylor in the miracle-comeback 34-31 win and they polished off No. 21 Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale, which earned OU the fourth and final playoff spot that year.

Riley has never lost a game in November since his first season at Oklahoma in 2015. That was when he was the team’s offensive coordinator and two years before he became head coach.

So, will history repeat itself? That, my friends, is all up to Riley and the players on this 2021 Oklahoma football team. The November opponents will also have something to say about that, of course.

The one thing we do know is that a one- or no-loss Big 12 champion is all but assured a spot in the playoff, and until someone takes it away, the championship trophy belongs to six-time defending champion Oklahoma.